Tag Archives: sarah hartley

Notes on setting up a regional newspaper datablog

Behind the Numbers - Birmingham's regional datablog

I’ve been working recently with the Birmingham Mail to launch Behind The Numbersa new datablog project with Birmingham City University supported by Help Me Investigate. I’m told that it is probably the UK’s first regional newspaper datablog, although whether that’s a meaningful claim is debatable*.

The first story generated by the project - what is the worst time to be seen at A&E - was published in the newspaper a week ago. But it’s what happens next that’s going to be interesting. Continue reading

Online journalists left out in the cold by local government

Hedy Korbee is a journalist with 29 years’ experience in broadcasting. She has worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Global TV, and CTV, among others. In September she moved to Birmingham to study the MA in Online Journalism that I teach, and decided to launch a website covering the biggest story of the year: the budget cuts.

Her experiences of local government here – and of local journalism – have left her incredulous. Since arriving Hedy has attended every council meeting – she notes that reporters from the BBC and ITV regional news do not attend. Her attempts to get responses to stories from elected officials have been met with stonewalling and silence.

This week – after 7 weeks of frustration – she discovered that the council had called a news briefing about their business plan for consultation with the public on how to cut £300 million in spending – and failed to tell her about it, despite the fact that she had repeatedly requested to be kept informed, and was even stood outside the council offices while it was taking place (and asked directly why TV crews were being waved in):

“At first, [the head of news] told me that it wasn’t a news conference but “a small briefing of regional journalists that we know”. [She] described them as five people, “local, traditional journalists” who were on her “automatic invite list”.  She said they were journalists that the press office has been talking to about all aspects of the budget cuts and have “an understanding of the threads of these stories”.

“She also said they were journalists who have talked to Stephen Hughes before and “know where he is coming from”.”

Hedy’s experience isn’t an isolated case. Hyperlocal bloggers frequently complain of being discriminated against by local government officers, being ignored, refused information or left to catch up on stories after council-friendly local newspapers are leaked leads. The most striking example of this was when Ventnor Blog’s Simon Perry was refused access to Newport coroner’s court as either a member of the press or a member of the public. (UPDATE: A further example is provided by this ‘investigation’ into one blogger’s right to film council committee meetings)

On the other side are press offices like Walsall’s, which appear to recognise that the way that blogs use social media allow the council to communicate with larger, more distributed, and different audiences than their print counterparts.

The issues for balanced reporting and public accountability are well illustrated by Hedy’s experience of calling the press office seeking a quote for a story:

“[I] was told that Birmingham councillors are “important people”  (I don’t know what that implies about “the public’s right to know”) and was told to simply write no comment.  The refusal by the press office to deal with us has made it exceedingly difficult to cover all sides of the story on our website.”

In contrast Hedy details her experiences in Canada:

“City Council meetings are considered a valuable source of news and attended by most of the local media and not just two print reporters, as they are in Birmingham.  Interested citizens show up in the gallery to watch.  Council meetings are broadcast live and journalists who can’t attend can watch the proceedings on television along with the general public.

“It is acceptable behaviour to walk up to a politician with your camera rolling and start asking questions which the politician will then answer.  If politicians are reluctant to answer questions they are often “scrummed” and wind up answering anyway.

“When major budget announcements are made by the federal government, politicians at every other level of government, as well as interest groups, hold news conferences to provide reaction.  Quite often, they go to the legislative chamber where the announcement is being made to make themselves more readily available to journalists (and, of course, to spin).”

Have you experienced similar problems as a journalist? Which local authorities deal well with the online media? I’d welcome your comments.

UPDATE: A response from Birmingham City Council comes via email:

“A Birmingham City Council spokesperson said: “We have proven that Birmingham City Council takes blogging and citizen journalism seriously through the launch of the award-winning http://www.birminghamnewsroom.com online press office.””

UPDATE 2 (Dec 16 2010): Sarah Hartley writes on the same problem, quoting some of the above incidents and others, and suggesting press offices confuse size with reach:

“Let the recently published London Online Neighbourhood Networks study enter the debate. It asked users of the citizen-run websites to identify what they regarded as their main source of local news. The result: 63% of respondents identified their local site as their main source.”

UPDATE 3 (Feb 23 2011): Guidance from the Local Government Secretary says that councils should give bloggers the same access as traditional media.

The New Online Journalists #1: Hannah Waldram

As part of an ongoing series on recent graduates who have gone into online journalism, Guardian Beatblogger Hannah Waldram talks about her education and experience leading up to her job, and what it involves.

I graduated from the Centre for Journalism at the Cardiff School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies with a diploma in newspaper journalism in June 2009. During the course, I followed developments in online journalism – spurred on by my tutor Glyn Mottershead – attended journalism and hyperlocal conferences across the UK, started a personal website to showcase my work (hrwaldram.co.uk), played around with new online tools and invested in some new tech (Flip cameras, netbooks), blogged a lot, as well as various bits of work experience including the technology desk at The Daily Telegraph and Media Guardian.

I also bought the domain name bournvillevillage.com and began brewing ideas for a hyperlocal website for my hometown area in Birmingham.

After completing the course and while sending off applications for trainee reporter jobs, I continued to set up Bournville Village. There’s a vibrant network of bloggers in Birmingham who gave me advice, support and ideas, and the blog launched just in time for some unusual gun shootings in the area.

Bournville is bursting with local news and history and is poorly covered by the regional press – so the blog was well-received by the community. It was also a great way for me to practise my skills as a journalist. Soon I was offered three jobs – two in traditional media and one in new media. I went for new media.

I started working as a social reporter for Podnosh and online editor of westmidlandsdance.com for Meshed Media – in these roles I learnt a lot about civic engagement, online communities and multimedia journalism.

I am now the Guardian Beatblogger in Cardiff. You can read more about the local project here and Local editor Sarah Hartley explains the role of a beatblogger here, I also recently published some tools I use on the job here.

I’ve since passed on bournvillevillage.com to Dave Harte who is a runner in Bournville and helped out from the outset. Under his editorship the site continues to thrive and unravel the hidden stories of the area.

How much local council coverage is there in your local newspaper? – help crowdsource the answer

Are local newspapers really wimping out on council coverage? Sarah Hartley would like you to help her investigate council coverage in local newspapers:

“After responses to the debate about council “newspapers” prompted so many comments … about local papers dumbing down and failing to cover civic issues at the expense of celebrity trivia, I suggested on this blog carrying out some sort of a survey to see whether that was truly the case.

“This alleged withdrawal of bread-and-butter reporting hasn’t been my experience of working on regional papers in northern England and Scotland, but, maybe times have changed or other regions have different stories to tell?”

Sarah’s investigation began on her blog with the Darlington & Stockton Times (of 7 eligible pages, the equivalent of 2 are concerned with local council stories) before I suggested she use Help Me Investigate to crowdsource the research.

If you’d like to help and need an invite contact Sarah, leave a comment here, or request an invite on Help Me Investigate itself.

10 women in technology you should be following (Ada Lovelace Day)

Thanks to a prompt from Jemima Kiss, I realised it’s Ada Lovelace day today. Thanks to Suw Charman-Anderson, I’ve signed a pledge to blog about a woman in technology I admire.

Well in that sentence alone I’ve already mentioned two.

I’ve already blogged about two other women in technology I admire: Jo Geary and danah boyd. So that makes 4.

How about another 6?

Aleks Krotoski, for instance, a games journalist and PhD student who has not one great Delicious feed, but two, which are both worth following. If more journalists were this well informed and transparent, more readers would be too.

Or Beth Kanter, a leader on how nonprofit organisations can use social media.

Or Alison Gow, Sarah Hartley, Angela Connor, or Amy Gahran, four more journalists using new technologies in innovative ways.

They happen to be female. I don’t think that matters. I hadn’t thought about it until now.

But I’m going to spend the next 20 minutes following links in the Twitter search for #adalovelace and a Technorati search for the same. Hope you can join me. Did you find anyone new?

Lessons in community from community editors #6: Sarah Hartley, MEN

I’ve been speaking to news organisations’ community editors on the lessons they’ve learned from their time in the job. Today, Sarah Hartley, head of online editorial for MEN Media, publishers of the Manchester Evening News and www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk. Her role includes managing and developing its online communities. She also blogs about online journalism at www.sarahhartley.wordpress.com and is on twitter @foodiesarah.

1. Participate

Unless you’re accepted as a member of the community, it will be difficult to successfully manage or maintain it. As in life, outsiders are mistrusted or their motives misconstrued.

Participating doesn’t just mean adding your own comments or clarifications to debates when required, but can also mean responding with further action.

If an inaccuracy is pointed out – amend it and don’t be worried about doing this publicly; it shows you’re listening. Taking on board legitimate points made by other members of a community you belong to is one way to ensure your blog/product/news service or whatever is more successful.

2. Not just a policeman

The MEN site is unusual among newspaper websites for pre-moderating all interactions with the public – comments, picture submissions, video etc. so my take on this may be slightly different to sites who post-moderate.

The pre-moderation policy means the team editing this material every day need to make snap judgements on what is, or isn’t, acceptable. No small task. The danger we have to guard against is that the activity becomes all about preventing things from happening rather than enabling them to happen.

So while policing for dangers is necessary, it’s important to remember that it isn’t the only activity – some encouragement and welcome is also needed.

3. Spell it out

Take a look at your terms and conditions. Are they written in English or legalese? Users can’t realistically be expected to understand what “defamation” means or have intricate knowledge about the race relations act.

However they can, for example, be expected to sign up to not insult others or use bad language.

Publish guidance notes on the standards of behaviour you do expect but make sure they have a friendly approachable tone to them. As well as helping users get an illustrated idea of what’s required, it also cuts a lot of time in explaining why something hasn’t been published because you can refer the user back to the policy.

Should journalism degrees still prepare students for a news industry that doesn’t want them?

UPDATE (Aug 7 ’08): The Annual Survey of Journalism & Mass Communication Graduates suggests employment opportunities and salaries are not affected.

J-schools are generally set up to prepare students for the mainstream news industry: print and broadcasting, with a growing focus on those industries’ online arms. There’s just one small problem. That industry isn’t exactly splashing out on job ads at the moment…

The LA Times is cutting 150 editorial jobs and reducing pages by 15%; The Atlanta Journal-Constitution cutting nearly 200 jobs; the Wall Street Journal cutting 50 jobs; Thomson Reuters axing 140 jobs; in the UK Newsquest is outsourcing prepress work to India, while also cutting jobs in York and Brighton; Reed Business Information, Trinity Mirror and IPC are all putting a freeze on recruitment, with Trinity Mirror also cancelling its graduate training scheme and cutting subbing jobs. In the past two months almost 4,000 jobs have vanished at US newspapers (Mark Potts has this breakdown of June’s 1000 US redundancies). In the past ten years the number of journalists in the US is said to have gone down by 25%.

Given these depressing stats I’ve been conducting a form of open ‘panel discussion’ format via Seesmic with a number of journalists and academics, asking whether journalism schools ought to revisit their assumptions about graduate destinations – and therefore what they teach. The main thread is below.

The responses are worth browsing through. Here’s my attempt at a digest: Continue reading